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Adla Massoud

Adla Massoud

Posted: October 6, 2010 01:38 PM

Lebanon and the STL

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Many Lebanese fear their country is on the brink of another major confrontation. The public feud between politicians over the past few weeks shows no sign of slowing down.

The bickering between the opposition group led by Hezbollah and the March 14 bloc all boils down to the Special Tribunal of Lebanon (STL). Even though the indictments have not been issued yet and no individual or party has been officially accused of the murder, rumors have been swirling around that the party of God - Hezbollah - is implicated in the 2005 assassination of ex-premier Rafiq Hariri and 22 others.

Hezbollah launched its own preemptive campaign to discredit the U.N. appointed Special Tribunal for Lebanon and blames Israel.

Meanwhile, Syria is officially back on the Lebanese political scene and the STL's credibility is slowly diminishing.

It issued on Sunday 33 arrest warrants against judges, officers, politicians and journalists of Lebanese, Arab and other nationalities who are named in a lawsuit filed in a Syrian court by a one-time Lebanese suspect in the assassination case.

The one-time Lebanese suspect is former director of General Security Major General Jamil al-Sayyed, who was among four pro-Syrian officers jailed without charge for nearly four years during events surrounding the 2005 assassination of Rafik Hariri.

He was arrested, upon former head of the UN investigation into the Hariri assassination Detlev Mehlis' request, along with the country's three other top security officials later that year, for suspicion of involvement in the murder.

Several high level Syrian government officials were also implicated - including President Assad's brother-in-law Assef Shawkat, who at the time was chief of the Syrian intelligence service. Syria has always denied involvement in the assassination and it looks unlikely that members of the Assad entourage will be indicted.

But Mehlis' two successors shrouded their investigations in secrecy until the four officers were released in April 2009 by STL Prosecutor Daniel Bellemare, only one month before the establishment of the UN-backed tribunal. Even the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention in March 2008 called the four generals' detention without charge "arbitrary" and "unjust."

Seen as a political ally of Hezbollah, Sayyed claims Hariri fabricated false witnesses in the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL).

He called Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri a liar, threatened violence in the streets of Beirut and urged all patriotic Lebanese to topple his government.

A raft of high profile politicians have weighed in on the debate an growing crisis, including Lebanese Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, who once blamed Syria but is now cozying up again to Bashar Al Assad.

Regarding the arrest warrants issued by Syria, Jumblatt told the Lebanese media: "The guilty should be punished and the innocent should be declared so. What happened is very good."

Samir Geagea, head of the Lebanese Forces (LF) and an ally of Saad Hariri, said that attempts to abolish a UN-backed tribunal probing the assassination of late Prime Minister Rafik Hariri were part of a coup against the Lebanese state.

In the meantime, Lebanon's Prime Minister Saad Hariri finds himself in a precarious situation of trying to honor the STL and run a fragile government.

The Sunni leader, who recently tried to mend relations with Syria by stating he had been wrong in accusing Syria of his father's murder, reaffirmed his commitment to the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) over the killing of his father and defied Hezbollah's demand that Lebanon officially accuse Israel of the murder.

It's going to take a very creative mind to get Lebanon out of this mess.